Boston Red Sox: Rich Hill

Takeaways: Buch sharp as Sox top Jays, 3-1

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Takeaways from Dunedin, where Mike Napoli was a late addition to the road trip to face the Toronto Blue Jays, Rich Hill was back on the mound, and Clay Buchholz posted zeroes once again in the only meeting of the spring between the division rivals.

[+] EnlargeClay Buchholz
Jonathan Dyer/USA TODAY SportsClay Buchholz looked sharp in four shutout innings but said his changeup still needs work.
The result: Buoyed by another impressive start by Buchholz, the Red Sox defeated the Blue Jays, 3-1, before a Florida Auto Exchange Stadium crowd of 5,519 -- the venue's fourth sellout of the spring. The Sox are now 7-8-1 after winning for the fifth time in the past six contests. The Red Sox broke through first with a run in the fifth inning after Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison held them at bay through his first four frames. Jonny Gomes singled to left off Hutchison to start the inning and made like The Flash in rounding the bases to score on Corey Brown's double to right center on the next pitch. The Sox scored the eventual winning run in the eighth with most of the reserves in to finish the day. One of the starters, though, Brock Holt, who is competing for a utility role, singled off Toronto reliever Kyle Drabek to start the inning. After Matty Johnson pinch ran for Holt, he eventually scored on a single by Deven Marrero, who then scored on a double by Sean Coyle.

Becoming Buchholz: It's still the middle of March, but Red Sox pitching is shaping into a mirror of the 2013 campaign. A day after Jake Peavy registered a solid appearance in his first spring outing, Buchholz breezed through his scheduled four innings of work with hardly a scratch.

"From the first time out until now, I've been able to get better as far as the innings progression," said Buchholz, who tossed one inning in his first appearance and three innings on March 9 against the Pirates. "I think I was efficient with the command of the two-seam and four-seam fastball today. I was able, a couple times when I fell behind, to come back and pound the strike zone."

After surrendering two consecutive singles to start the first inning, Buchholz kept the sheet clean the rest of his 55-pitch outing. One of the singles resulted in Jose Reyes being thrown out at second as he tried to stretch his line drive to right fielder Corey Brown into a double.

"From there on out, I felt pretty comfortable about moving the fastball around the strike zone," said Buchholz, who threw 35 strikes. "Going through some [trouble] and giving up some hard contact and being able to pitch around and get through it, it's a good step."

While Buchholz said he was pleased with where his velocity is at this point in the spring, the righty would like to refine his changeup.

"The changeup's the one pitch I haven't quite got a grasp on," said Buchholz, who threw four of them against the Blue Jays. "It's better that it's down than up, but I haven't really gotten a feel for it yet and that's a pitch I use a lot. I wanted to work on it a little bit more today, but when you spike it in the dirt, it's a pitch you don't want to keep throwing up there. As long as I'm throwing my fastballs over, I can work on [the changeup] and it's something I will improve on the side."

John Farrell said Buchholz is in line to make four more spring starts before the team breaks camp. The Red Sox skipper is pleased with Buchholz's overall foundation.

"He had three very good pitches working for him: his curveball, cutter and fastball," Farrell said. "I thought he had better stuff than he did five days ago. His velocity is starting to climb a bit, later action to his secondary pitches. Overall, he looks very comfortable with good stuff."

In terms of his righty's velocity, Farrell said he is pleased with how it's progressing.

"I'm not going to say I'm surprised, but it's very encouraging," Farrell said. "The last time out, it was 89, 91 mph. Today, he was 91, 92 mph pretty consistently. It shows the arm strength is building. In a matter of five days, there's been a sizable step forward to the action of all his pitches. More than anything, he's comfortable in his delivery. He's moving in the right direction."

Shane sits, then takes BP: Following Friday's contest, Farrell confirmed the fact that Shane Victorino did not play in a minor league game back in Fort Myers after "feeling discomfort" in his surgically repaired thumb. According to Red Sox media relations, though, the training staff said Victorino participated in batting practice in the cage back at the Fort.

Farrell anticipates Victorino being back in the lineup against the Philadelphia Phillies in Saturday night's game at JetBlue Park. This is the first issue with the right thumb for Victorino, who Farrell said exited the game against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday and mentioned some pain.

"He came out of the game the other day, and he felt a zinger in there," Farrell said. "It's hard for me to say what it is."

[+] EnlargeHill
AP Photo/Kathy WillensRich Hill made his spring game debut in the fifth inning against the Blue Jays.
Staying strong: Rich Hill teared up when discussing his first official spring appearance since the death of his infant son, Brooks. The 34-year-old left-hander said it was emotional being back out on the mound, but he is strengthened through the spirit of his son.

"It was tough, but it was good," said Hill, who tossed a perfect inning with one strikeout.

Hill, who threw 25 pitches in a simulated game a few days ago, was visibly emotional when discussing his outing Friday.

"At one point, you're out there -- I remember it was a 3-2 count -- and before it was like, you have to make a pitch here, you have to make a pitch," Hill said. "Then it just comes to you where you're just, you're playing baseball. This isn't something you were dealing with ... a few weeks ago. So, it was kind of a sense of ease to go out there and play the game the way we were meant to play it as kids. The emotions and the feelings out there today, that was really in that one sense. You see a black and white line there, where in years past, instead of just going out there and having fun, there would sometimes be overwhelming pressure to perform. That's where a lot of the emotions came through. The core level of the game."

Farrell was happy to see the southpaw back on the mound, more so from an emotional first step than anything. But the Red Sox manager knows both he and Hill have a job to do. "He's done everything he can to get back in the game," Farrell said. "We're going to reserve any type of judgment on him in terms of a game until he gets out there a bit more."

Hill, who allowed 27 earned runs in 38 ⅔ relief innings with the Cleveland Indians last year, is considered a solid option for a relief spot. Before the 2013 campaign, Hill posted a 1.14 ERA in 31 ⅔ innings in parts of three seasons with the Sox.

JBJ report: Jackie Bradley Jr., starting in center field, went 0-for-3 and is now batting .167 for the spring.

X file: Xander Bogaerts did not make the trip to Dunedin.

The dot, dot, dots: Jon Lester starts Saturday night against the Phillies at JetBlue Park. Other pitchers scheduled to make an appearance include Chris Capuano, Burke Badenhop, Andrew Miller and Edward Mujica. ... The Red Sox finished fifth in the latest rankings of fan involvement by TicketCity, a website that uses several different variables to identify fan involvement from data measured off the 2013 season before July 30. The algorithm is designed based on average total attendance, average home attendance, average home game ticket price, percentage of stadium capacity filled at home, Facebook likes and "talking about," and Twitter following. The San Francisco Giants ranked first.

Sox nontender Sweeney, Atchison, Hill

November, 30, 2012
Ryan SweeneyAP Photo/Elise AmendolaRyan Sweeney never really got on track in his brief time in Boston.
BOSTON -- Underscoring the one-sidedness of last winter's deal with the Oakland Athletics in which former Sox outfielder Josh Reddick emerged as a star, the Red Sox announced Friday they were not offering a 2013 contract to outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who came from the Athletics with closer Andrew Bailey.

Sweeney, whose season came to an end on July 31 when he fractured the knuckle on his little finger punching a dugout door, was one of three players the Sox nontendered. The other two were pitchers Rich Hill and Scott Atchison, who have been through this process before. All three are now free agents, though Hill and Atchison could wind up back in the Sox organization on minor league contracts with an invitation to big league camp.

The Sox offered contracts to the other 30 players on their roster who were not already under contract, including reliever Alfredo Aceves, who some had speculated might not be tendered after clashing with manager Bobby Valentine last season. New manager John Farrell, though, has identified Aceves as a pitcher whose versatility makes him valuable to the team; the Sox could also package him in a trade.

None of the moves was unexpected. The left-handed Hill was coming off Tommy John elbow surgery. The right-handed Atchison missed the last 55 games of the season with a strained right elbow, although he elected to forgo reconstructive surgery in the hope that rest and rehabilitation would be sufficient for his recovery.

Sweeney, projected to platoon with Cody Ross in right field, was hampered with injuries from the outset, straining a quad muscle in spring training. In May, he sustained a concussion that caused him to miss seven games, then less than a month later sustained a stress fracture of his left big toe, missing 18 games. He then missed another three games in July with a sore left hamstring before punching the dugout door in frustration and fracturing his finger, an injury that required a screw to be inserted in surgery.

Sweeney played in just 63 games (50 starts), batting .260 (53-for-204) with no home runs and 16 RBIs. Though Sweeney is just 27 and the Sox have a clear need for outfielders, his lack of power undoubtedly played a role in the club's decision to nontender him. Sweeney has hit just one home run in 303 plate appearances since July 24, 2011.

With these moves, Boston's 40-man roster is now at 37.

Bobby won't count Papi out; Hill activated

September, 1, 2012
OAKLAND -- Although reported that David Ortiz is not likely to play again this season, Bobby Valentine said he's still under the impression that "he's going to try. That's the last I heard. It's old news."

Valentine had said that Ortiz's platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection went well earlier this week, and he was expecting to see Ortiz rejoin the team either next week in Seattle or next weekend back in Boston.

As expected the Red Sox activated left-hander Rich Hill on the first day of expanded rosters. The Red Sox are not expected to bring up any more players from Triple-A until Pawtucket's season is over.

Bobby V: David Ortiz 'feels better'

August, 31, 2012
OAKLAND -- Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said it looks like David Ortiz is doing better since having an injection in his injured Achilles.

Valentine said Ortiz "feels better," but doctors are not planning on having Ortiz rejoin the team this weekend. Valentine said it's possible Ortiz could meet the team next week in Seattle, but it seems more likely he'd be back next weekend in Boston.

Ortiz, who was placed on the disabled list Monday, underwent a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection this week.

Left-handed pitcher Franklin Morales, who's on the DL with a tired shoulder, has been throwing, Valentine said. Valentine said Morales will pitch again this season, "without a doubt."

Left-hander Rich Hill joined the team Friday, and he is expected to be activated when rosters expand Saturday. Valentine said the Red Sox aren't expecting to add any more players from Triple-A Pawtucket or Double-A Portland until their seasons end. Pawtucket had a chance to clinch a berth in the International League playoffs on Friday night. Portland's season ends Monday.

Valentine said he would be in favor of changing the rules that allow teams to expand their rosters up to 40 players in September.

"You play the entire season to build a competitive advantage between your team and the competition, and then it's thrown out the window in the last month of the season," Valentine said.

Valentine said he'd actually be in favor of expanding the rosters in April.

"You get to see guys play in April under the lights and pick a real team and then you go to battle with that team through the postseason," he said.

Injury updates: Ellsbury, Hill progressing

June, 22, 2012
BOSTON -- Jacoby Ellsbury was out running in the sun-scorched outfield at Fenway on Friday. He has been making consistent progress in his return from a right shoulder subluxation, but Valentine was succinct when asked if there were any updates on Ellsbury.

"No," he said, and that was all.

Valentine said earlier in the week that Ellsbury was "close to game activities."

Meanwhile, lefty reliever Rich Hill is just about at the point where he can resume certain activities with his left arm. He received a shot in his strained elbow 11 days ago, a treatment that needs nearly two weeks to do its thing. Doctors have laid out a six-week recovery timeline for Hill.

"He's progressing and there are no setbacks," Valentine said.

Lefty Hill could miss a month

June, 11, 2012
MIAMI -- Left-handed reliever Rich Hill has a strained flexor muscle and could be out for about a month, manager Bobby Valentine said Monday.

That actually could be considered good news, as the Red Sox had Hill examined by Dr. James Andrews on Monday fearing the injury might be a ligament problem. Hill had Tommy John surgery last year.

In 13 2/3 innings over 17 appearances this season, Hill is 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA, 11 strikeouts and 7 walks.

Left-hander Franklin Morales, who has worn a variety of hats in the bullpen, will be affected in some way by Hill’s absence, but Valentine isn’t sure how.

“He’s very durable and flexible, so I want his mind to remain open,” Valentine said.

Ross doing well: Cody Ross, who was expected to miss six to eight weeks with a fractured foot, is well ahead of schedule. Ross ran at full-speed Monday for the first time since his May 18 injury. He’ll stay with the Red Sox through Wednesday, and is scheduled to begin a three-game rehab assignment with Pawtucket on Friday in Buffalo. Ross said he hopes to rejoin the team June 19 in Boston.

Jacoby Ellsbury took soft-toss pitches in the batting cage, but offered little on his progress. “I’m moving forward, so I’m definitely excited,” he said.

Carl Crawford threw from 45 feet and will increase that to 75 on Tuesday. He’ll continue his rehab in Fort Myers on Thursday.

Daniel Nava is still out with a problematic hand. “He needs probably another day or so,” Valentine said.

Rich Hill

Sox recall Melancon, put Hill on DL

June, 10, 2012
BOSTON -- Red Sox reliever Rich Hill has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with tightness in his left elbow and will be examined by Dr. James Andrews on Monday.

The Red Sox have called up reliever Mark Melancon from Triple-A Pawtucket. Hill, who had Tommy John surgery last year, began feeling the discomfort in his elbow about three weeks ago but the tightness then subsided.

It was evident during his outing on Friday that something was wrong when he was having difficulty throwing his curveball.

According to Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, Hill was examined and it was determined he would need to visit with Dr. Andrews.

"Because of the situation that he's dealing with in the first year of his rehabilitation, we're going to have him go back to Dr. Andrews, the doctor who performed the operation to get his opinion why he has that tightness. He doesn't feel good throwing his curveball and hopefully it'll come back as [standing operating procedure] and this is the way things happen as you recover from Tommy John."

Melancon began the season with the Red Sox but was optioned to Pawtucket on April 18. Since then he has recorded 11 saves with the PawSox, posting an 0.83 ERA and allowing only two runs in 21 2/3 innings. The right-hander also recorded 27 strikeouts in 21 outings.

"Melancon has been lights-out at Triple-A," Valentine said. "Every report was excellent. About the third day he got there, he regained command of his fastball. His curveball became a much more functional pitch and he started throwing his changeup, also. He threw to both sides of the plate and maintained his velocity. He would have been back sooner if our bullpen wasn't doing as well as it has been."

After earning a spot on the Sox's Opening Day roster, Melancon imploded during four outings for Boston, posting a 0-2 record while allowing 11 earned runs in only two innings of work, including five home runs.

Valentine said that he's comfortable putting Melancon in any situation.

"As good as he's throwing, I'd like to put him in situations that will help us win a game," Valentine said.

Melancon understood why he was sent to the minors, and also why he had to stay there because Boston's bullpen has pitched so well. He was able to regain his form with the PawSox and he's happy with the way he's throwing the ball now.

"I'm a lot more aggressive," he said. "I'm throwing strikes."

Melancon added: "After five or six times [being sent to the minors in my career] you realize it doesn't help to go down there and get pissed off. ... It's tough to go down there after you'd had a couple of bad outings, but you've got to make the best of it and that's what I was trying to do."

10 observations after Sox lose marathon

May, 6, 2012
BOSTON -- Roughly one hour after the Orioles-Red Sox game on Sunday, someone dressed as a ram mascot with an unidentifiable blue jersey on was running the bases at Fenway Park with a video crew in tow and Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" blaring overhead. And that wasn't even close to being the oddest sight at Fenway Park on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeMatt Wieters, Chris Davis
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireChris Davis' sour day at the plate (0-for-8, 5 K's) was sweetened when he earned the win by pitching the final two innings.
In the longest Sox game in terms of innings and time (17 innings spanning 6 hours, 7 minutes) since 2006, Baltimore outlasted the reeling hosts by a 9-6 margin. It was the kind of game that would best be summed up in a "War and Peace"-sized recap. But that's ridiculous. Here is your Cliffs Notes version, 10 observations taken from a wild one at Fenway:

(1) It is so rare to see a position player pitching. It is even rarer to see a position player pitching in a tie game. It is like spotting a unicorn to see position players for both teams squaring off at the same time in a tie game. Such was the case as this one boiled down to Orioles designated hitter Chris Davis and Red Sox designated hitter Darnell McDonald in a matchup for the ages. Or the aged, as the case was by the time the game ended.

Davis got the win with two scoreless frames, showcasing a heater that reached the low 90s and some off-speed stuff that did not look all that bad. Just ask Adrian Gonzalez, who flailed at what looked like a changeup to strike out with two men on in the bottom of the 17th.

(2) That strikeout was part of an awful day at the plate for Gonzalez. He seemed to have broken out of a slump with back-to-back three-hit efforts, but this one will be tough to get past. Gonzalez, who did not speak with reporters, became the first Red Sox cleanup hitter ever to go 0-for-8. Included in that performance were two strikeouts and one double play. He made first-pitch outs in the 10th, 12th and 15th.

Given all that, Bobby Valentine was quick to point out that Gonzalez was offering up his services in the event the manager needed anyone to pitch beyond McDonald.

(3) The silver lining again was the bullpen. Taking out McDonald's one inning, Red Sox relievers threw 12 1/3 scoreless innings. They threw 13 1/3 innings over the first two games of the series. When asked if a move is necessary to survive the upcoming series in Kansas City, Valentine was non-committal. But it seems almost impossible to begin that set without adding a fresh arm. The only pitcher Valentine said was definitely not available was Scott Atchison, who threw 23 pitches one day after throwing 35.

[+] EnlargeMarlon Byrd
Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesThe Sox would have won it in the 16th if Marlon Byrd had been safe on this play at the plate.
(4) When a runner is thrown out at the plate, especially in a big situation, it always seems like a mistake. Why did they send him, the masses will scream. However, it is hard to blame the Red Sox for trying to score Marlon Byrd from first base on a Mike Aviles double in the 16th. When you haven't scored in seven innings and you haven't won since Tuesday and you get a ball in the gap with two outs, why not? The Orioles made a great relay to nail Byrd by several steps. One hesitation or extra bounce in the outfield and the Sox are mobbing Byrd at home and Aviles at second.

(5) In large part because of its quirky dimensions and the close proximity of fans, Fenway Park has so often played into the hands of the Red Sox. Few places in all of sports boast such a distinct home-field (or home-court or home-ice) advantage. The club wins 50 games here on a yearly basis just by showing up.

Not anymore. After dropping 10 of their final 14 games at Fenway last season, Boston has dropped 10 of its first 14 this season. For those of you without an abacus, that's an 8-20 stretch at the Fens. You don't need any adding machines to recognize that as an extreme departure from the norm.

(6) Amid the wonderful performance by the bullpen were two standout jobs by lefties Andrew Miller and Rich Hill. Miller got the last out of the fourth inning after taking over for Clay Buchholz and then struck out the side in the fifth. Consider that in his 10 appearances for Pawtucket, Miller had just two perfect outings.

Also consider the fact that Hill, just four games into his return from Tommy John surgery, worked into a third inning of relief. He never managed an out in that third frame, walking the leadoff man and getting yanked, but the fact that he was sent back out for more was a tad surprising. Don't expect him to be working Monday in Kansas City as well.

(7) Pretty incredible how things are developing between the Sox and O's. With Sunday's win Baltimore is back in first place in the American League East, 7½ games ahead of last-place Boston. And this was a rivalry once so one-sided that the Sox were 64-25 against the Orioles from 2005 through 2009.

Baltimore's sweep is its first of the three-game variety at Fenway Park in nearly 18 years. Yikes.

(8) The term "rookie mistake" was uttered several times after Will Middlebrooks failed to run out a ball that bounced fair down the left-field line in the bottom of the 11th. His lapse in judgment turned a sure double into a single, and with two outs in the inning it loomed large.

However, Valentine is 100 percent correct in referencing the odd wind patterns in that part of the field and how it can fool players who are not accustomed to it. A handful of times every season a left fielder overruns a ball that blows back into fair territory behind him. Nine times out of 10 it is an opposing player. The 10th time it is Jeremy Hermida, or at least it was in 2010, when he made a mockery of such plays.

(9) Just in case you need to be reminded, the winning pitcher was Chris Davis, who also struck out five times and grounded into a double play, and the losing pitcher was Darnell McDonald, who pinch-ran for David Ortiz in the eighth. That's the kind of game it was.

(10) Felix Doubront has yet to last into the seventh inning in eight career starts. With a bullpen in tatters heading to Kansas City, now's the time, Felix.
Lars Anderson will start in left field for the Boston Red Sox in Chicago.

"I've watched him now for four days. He’s good off the fungo," Boston manager Bobby Valentine said before Thursday's game against the Chicago White Sox, according to The Boston Globe. "The reports on him are that he caught everything that was hit to him when he played. We'll see. Hasn't been challenged. I would say that the wind and the big league hitters will challenge him a little more than he's been challenged before. He feels good about it.”

Cody Ross left Wednesday night's game with a sore left knee and is not starting Thursday, though he could be used as a pinch hitter. He'll likely return to the lineup Friday, according to Valentine.

Ross reportedly had his knee protected with an elastic support but said "I'm fine. We're just being careful."

Meanwhile, pitcher Rich Hill is progressing well in his rehab. Valentine indicated that the left-hander could rejoin the Sox as early as this weekend.

Bard, Aceves polar opposites vs. Cards

March, 15, 2012

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox pitchers Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard made very different statements with their performances during Boston’s 9-6 loss to St. Louis at JetBlue Park on Thursday.

Aceves and Bard are two of Boston’s hurlers that are competing for the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation. Aceves’ statement was a positive one as he allowed one run in four innings and struck out four batters. Bard’s statement was quite the contrary, as he allowed seven runs 2 2/3 innings while walking four batters.

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said before Thursday’s loss that does not plan on making any immediate decisions on who will make the starting rotation.

“What I’m trying to do now is formulate the guys who are going to be in the bullpen in my mind,” Valentine said. “Then (I will) pick the guys who will be starting the game.”

Aceves allowed all three of his hits in the first two innings before setting down the final six batters he faced in a row. His ERA sits at 1.00 in nine innings pitched this spring.

“The rhythm of the game was a priority for me personally,” Aceves said when asked about Thursday’s outing. “So far, so good (this spring). I think everything is good.”

Bard struggled to find the strike zone at times as he recorded a blown save and took the loss in Thursday’s game. His ERA ballooned to 8.22 in 7 2/3 innings pitched.

“Physically, I could throw more pitches,” Bard said. “Obviously (I) just wasn't in the (strike) zone, wasn't throwing strike one. (I) just need to be a little more aggressive early in the count.”

Youk Up First: Third baseman Kevin Youkilis celebrated his 33rd birthday on Thursday by hitting leadoff for the Red Sox. He was 0-for-2 with a walk.

While Valentine said he would “probably not” bat Youkilis in the leadoff position during the regular season, Valentine does have a history of batting nontraditional players first in the order.

In the early 1990s while managing the Texas Rangers, Valentine batted 40-year-old Brian Downing in the leadoff position. Downing had just 50 stolen bases in his 20-year major league career but carried a high on-base percentage, something Valentine looks for in a leadoff hitter.

“(Batting Youkilis in the leadoff position) was more on the idea of getting him a couple quick at-bats because he is going to have a lot of games,” Valentine said. “Youk is a very productive hitter. ... Our lack of other right-handed hitters would (stop me from hitting Youkilis leadoff) right now. But maybe we have other right-handed hitters.”

Youkilis insinuated that he would prefer to hit further down in the batting order.

“We haven’t talked about it but I don’t think I’m going to be hitting leadoff,” Youkilis said. “I don’t think I’m a leadoff hitter. ... I think I can do a lot better down in the order for this team.”

McDonald On Fire: Darnell McDonald admitted after leaving Thursday’s game that he is having the best spring of his career at the plate. McDonald blasted a two-run home run to left field in the fourth inning after narrowly missing a home run in the third inning and instead settling for a double. McDonald leads the team with seven extra-base hits this spring.

“I’m just trying to make the best out of my opportunities out there,” McDonald said. “I started hitting a little earlier than I would normally start (in the offseason). I was really trying to build off the end of last year.”

When all players are healthy, Boston has a fairly crowded outfield. But with Carl Crawford (recovering from wrist surgery) and Ryan Sweeney (left quad strain) both recovering from injuries, McDonald’s role is expanded right now.

“This is nothing new,” McDonald said of competing for a spot in the outfield. “It’s been going well this spring. I want to keep it going.”

Ciriaco Strikes Again: Non-roster invitee Pedro Ciriaco continued his hot streak on Thursday. After hitting a walkoff home run on Monday night and scoring the game-winning run on Tuesday night, Ciriaco ripped a two-run double after the Red Sox had loaded the bases in the sixth inning on Thursday.

The 26-year-old infielder leads the team with a .642 batting average and .642 on-base percentage. He also leads the team in runs and stolen bases and is tied for the team lead in RBI this spring.

“I’m seeing the ball very good,” the native Dominican said. “I feel comfortable right now. I worked very hard in the offseason.”

Ciriaco has hit safely in eight of the 10 games he has played in this spring. He still seems to be a long shot to make the big league club, but he's making the Sox feel good about signing him to a minor league deal on Jan. 3.

Left-Handed Relief Quandry: Left-handed pitcher Rich Hill, who appeared in nine games last season for Boston before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery in June, threw his first live batting practice on Thursday morning. He threw 20 pitches to hitters and tossed 20 warm-up pitches.

Hill is one of just five Red Sox lefties on the major league roster not slated to be in the starting rotation.

Franklin Morales, who appeared in 36 games for Boston in 2011, is also making his way back into shape after having to return to Boston earlier in the spring for follow-up testing following a physical.

Despite both lefties progressing, Valentine is not rushing to make any decisions about left-handers in the bullpen.

“I need to have people that I’m comfortable getting left-handers out in the bullpen,” Valentine said. “To think that you have to establish that now, (that’s) not part of the plan. Eventually a team wants to have a comfort with all those roles. Defining the roles in this camp on March 15 is premature.”

Left-hander Justin Thomas, a non-roster invitee, worked around two infield singles in a scoreless fifth inning on Thursday.

At Odds With The Schedule Maker: Things will get tricky for the Red Sox in the next couple days thanks to a somewhat odd schedule. Boston will play Minnesota on Friday at 7:05 p.m. and then will be forced to play two split-squad day games on Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles.

“It’s cruel and unjust punishment,” Valentine joked. “But we had an off day yesterday so we’ll be ready.”

Hill fills breach, builds bridge to Papelbon

May, 25, 2011
CLEVELAND -- Terry Francona sure was happy to have Rich Hill available in relief Tuesday night.

The left-hander got four key outs, including a strikeout to escape from a seventh-inning jam, to help Josh Beckett and the Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians, 4-2.

“He came in and did exactly what you hoped he would do,” Francona said.

That would be coming on to replace Beckett with runners on the corners and striking out left-handed hitting Jack Hannahan to preserve a 4-1 lead against a team that has built baseball’s best record (30-16) on a series of late-inning comebacks.

The Red Sox are an American League-best 15-7 in May.

Francona turned to Hill, a converted starter, in the key setup role because Daniel Bard wasn’t available. Bard worked tough innings in each of the previous two games.

“We didn’t have Bard, but Rich came into a big situation and really helped us,” Francona said. He added that Bard will remain the main setup man for Jonathan Papelbon, but that Hill has pitched well enough to get more work in meaningful situations.

That’s fine with the 31-year-old, who has resurrected his career as a reliever. Hill has yet to yield a run in seven innings over seven outings since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on May 5.

”The key is pitch-to-pitch focus,” said Hill, adding that he actually feels more comfortable when he gets to the mound in a pressure situation than when he’s warming up.

“When you get to the mound, there’s a sense of ease,” he explained. “When the phone rings, you get the adrenaline rush.”

Hill, a starter for the Cubs (2005-08) and Orioles (2009) turned to relief a year ago and has changed his delivery drastically, going to a corkscrew, sidearm motion that is particularly effective against lefties.

“I always had [relieving] as a backup plan, on the back burner,” Hill said. “When I started, I would drop down on a hitter now and then and it felt natural. Now, I have a more consistent release point. I feel a lot more comfortable.”

NOTES: David Ortiz hit in six straight games, going 10-for-27 (.370) with 5 doubles and 2 homers. He has 10 multihit games since May 2. ... Jason Varitek, who went deep Tuesday, has hit six homers since turning 38, tying Elston Howard for the most by a Red Sox catcher past that age. His two RBIs broke a tie with Mike Greenwell (726) for 13th place on the Red Sox' all-time list. ... Adrian Gonzalez's RBI double gave him a .520 average (13-for-25) with runners in scoring position and two outs this season.

Rich Hill

Hill tweaks his delivery

February, 23, 2011
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Red Sox lefty reliever Rich Hill took the mound to throw a live BP session Wednesday morning at the player development complex, it was quite noticeable that he changed his delivery.

The 30-year-old Boston native is in his second season in the Red Sox organization, and after some internal discussion, management thought it would be better if Hill tweaked his arm slot.

“He’s bought in,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “Last year in September he was [throwing] at various angles, and through conversations, as a staff, we felt that was probably where we liked it. But, if a guy doesn’t feel comfortable it’s not going to work. He actually brought it to our attention that’s his comfort zone.”

Hill signed with Boston as a free agent last June and posted a 1-0 record and allowed five hits with one walk in six games (four innings pitched) for the Red Sox in 2010. He spent the majority of his time at Triple-A Pawtucket.

Francona said he believes this change to his delivery will help Hill’s performance.

“The hard thing is when you go out and you give up some runs, staying with it. It’s something that has a chance to make him be a part of a major league bullpen,” Francona said.

Sox bring up Milton native Hill

September, 13, 2010
The Red Sox added left-hander Rich Hill of Milton to the active roster in time for tonight’s game in Seattle.

Hill, 30, combined to go 7-4 with a 4.00 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 42 appearances (10 starts) this season between the Cardinals Triple-A affiliate in Memphis and Triple-A Pawtucket. He signed with the Red Sox as a minor league free agent on June 30 and posted a 3-1 record with 55 strikeouts in 19 appearances (six starts) for the PawSox, leading the team with a 3.74 ERA in 53 innings after his July 1 debut.

Hill is 21-20 with a 4.87 ERA and 355 strikeouts in 78 career appearances (70 starts) over parts of five major league seasons with the Cubs (2005-08) and Orioles (2009).

To make room on the 40-man roster, the club transferred first baseman Kevin Youkilis to the 60-day disabled list.

Red Sox sign lefty Hill

July, 1, 2010
BOSTON -- The Red Sox signed left-handed pitcher Rich Hill to a minor-league contract. He will report to Triple-A Pawtucket.

Hill, 30, was 4-3 with a 4.30 ERA in 23 games (four starts) with the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate in Memphis this season. A native of Boston, Hill is 21-20 with a 4.87 ERA in 78 major league games over parts of five seasons with the Cubs and Orioles.